Much ado about nothing
Darin Yokoyama describes his childhood as normal, until the age of 10. That's when he found out he had diabetes.
"I never ate a lot of sweets before then, but I missed it afterward," he said. "I accepted the fact that I would have to watch my diet. In those days, diabetics had a very bland diet."
1218 Waimanu St. No. 102 / 593-1234
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Prices: Vary by item
The holidays were especially hard, he said, recalling parties where he always felt confined to the sidelines while everyone else looked so happy while enjoying dessert.
Luckily, the passage of time led to the development of sugar-free sweeteners, and travels that opened his eyes to a world of sugarless desserts and treats. When he moved back to Hawaii after spending 18 years on the mainland, he was surprised by the lack of such options, considering Hawaii has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the country. (See box.)
To address the situation, Yokoyama, with three partners -- Alan Takahata, Craig Arakaki and Patti Garrett -- has opened Sweet Nothings on Waimanu Street between Pensacola and Piikoi streets. As far as I know, it's the first sugar-free shop on Oahu, making it a very Merry Christmas gift for diabetics and anyone making New Year's diet resolutions.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLEITN.COM
Craig Arakaki, left, Camille Hurley, Alan Takahata and Darin Yokoyama sample the sugarless pastries at their Sweet Nothings shop. Sweet Nothings is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today for those who want to pick up sugar-free treats for a Christmas Eve potluck.
Behind the glass counters is typical pastry shop bounty of custard and cream pies ($8.95), cheesecake ($16.25), brownies ($1.45), cookies and turnovers ($1.75).
"What we wanted to do was create a one-stop shop where people could pick up sugar-free candies (including chocolate truffles and Gummi Bears), pastries and beverages," Yokoyama said. "For diabetics it's like walking into a Disneyland where they can have anything."
There is a catch.
Just because the products are sugar-free doesn't give individuals license to gorge themselves on cream puffs ($1.75), bear claws ($2.25) and napoleons ($2.50).
Diabetes is considered "a disease on the march" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates two out of three children born in Hawaii in the year 2000 will develop diabetes.
Diabetes is already a major health risk in Hawaii, where more than 110,000 residents have the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association in Hawaii. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the state, and native Hawaiians have the highest death rates.
Diabetes is a result of the body's inability to produce or use insulin, which takes sugar from the blood into the cells, leaving the body starved for energy while high glucose levels in the bloodstream endanger major organs.
Heredity, diet and exercise play a big part in the development of diabetes, which is more common in African Americans, Latinos, native Americans, Filipinos, Japanese and Pacific Islanders than in Caucasian populations.
In the United States, 54 million people have pre-diabetes, which can be controlled through dietary changes and increased physical activity. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, coupled with a 5 to 10 percent reduction in body weight, has been shown to produce a 58 percent reduction in diabetes.
It is helpful to eat more vegetables and choose water and calorie-free drinks instead of regular soda, fruit punch and other sugar-sweetened drinks. Also, cut back on high-calorie snack foods and full-fat ice cream. Note that eating too much, even of healthful foods, can lead to weight gain.
There is good reason to make the changes now. Diabetes puts individuals at risk for heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and other diseases and complications.
For one thing, baked goods still equal carbohydrates, and carbs are a source of simple sugars. Cutting the sugar cuts carbs and calories by half, Yokoyama said, but it has no bearing on fat. And that's real cream cheese topping the cream cheese brownies and filling cheese pockets.
"We don't pretend to be fat-free," Yokoyama said. "If we were fat-free, sugar-free and calorie-free, we'd have water. We try to be conscious of fat content so we don't do any frying, we don't use shortening."
They also use butter instead of margarine.
"We preach moderation," Yokoyama said. "Of course, if you eat five pastries, your blood sugar will go up. We're saying if you want to eat healthy but want dessert, it might as well be sugar-free, and just because someone's diabetic doesn't mean they can't enjoy things."
THOSE WHO love sugary snacks might be loath to give up the real thing, but Yokoyama and his partners spent a year perfecting their recipes.
"We blend a variety of sweeteners to give our pastries that sugary taste without the bitterness or aftertaste of nonsugar sweeteners," he said. "It's very difficult to bake without sugar, but we've modified all our recipes to come close to the real thing."
It shows in brownies that won't have anyone missing out on chocolatey richness, and turnovers filled with sweet but sugar-free fruit preserves.
The main difference is in the pastry dough, which tends to bake up fluffy and airy, without the crisp flakiness of standard buttery bakery pastry. But patrons seem to accept the difference when weighing the benefits between less or more calories and sugar, making a cream-filled napoleon Sweet Nothing's first hit.
Since opening in October, he's determined that more than 50 percent of his clientele are nondiabetic.
"They feel a lot less guilty when they're eating sugar-free," he said. "A lot of people come in and thank us."